- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has fired the city’s police commissioner and called him a “distraction” amid a crime surge in which 155 men, women, teenagers — even a 7-year-old boy — have been slain.

Ms. Rawlings-Blake announced Wednesday that she had decided to temporarily replace Police Commissioner Anthony Batts with Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Davis.

Her announcement came less than 24 hours after four people were gunned down next to the campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and less than an hour before Mr. Batts was to discuss with reporters an external review of the police department’s handling of the April 27 riots.

The mayor made public her decision to fire Mr. Batts just as the department’s union, Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, made public its scathing 32-page report, which describes how Mr. Batts led a frightened police force equipped with scant resources and protective equipment into a scuffle with a violent mob — a fight that escalated into riots.

But Ms. Rawlings-Blake said during an afternoon press conference that she did not fire Mr. Batts to appease the police union.

Instead, she pointed to the overnight murders, which included a fatal stabbing, and said she made the decision to replace the commissioner because it was “in the best interest to the people of Baltimore.”

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There has been an abundance of focus “on the leadership of the department and not enough on the crime fight,” a trend which needs to change, the mayor told reporters.

“As we have seen in recent weeks, too many continue to die on our streets, including three just last night and one lost earlier today,” she said. “Families are tired of feeling this pain, and so am I.”

The spike in homicides comes after several years of crime reduction. Baltimore police responded to 210 murders in 2014 and 235 murders in 2013.

Both Ms. Rawlings-Blake and Commissioner Davis, the newly appointed interim police chief, credited Mr. Batts, who was hired in August 2012, with making the city a safer place during the Wednesday press conference.

Mr. Batts put more cops on the street during peak periods of time where crime was known to spike, Ms. Rawlings-Blake said, adding that in his last few weeks as commissioner, he invested time in repairing the frayed relationship between the police department and the community.

“There aren’t many police chiefs in this country who have done what he’s done,” Mr. Davis said.

Backlash quickly surfaced among the local political community.

Maryland state Delegate David Vogt, Carroll County Republican, issued a statement blasting Ms. Rawlings-Blake and called on her to resign.

“This is nothing more than a political move and an attempt to identify a scapegoat because the mayor is unwilling to be held accountable for her inept handling of the situation,” Mr. Vogt said.

Ms. Rawlings-Blake has weathered her share of the blame for the injuries that befell Baltimore police officers during the riots that rocked the city in the days following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured while in police custody.

The mayor and commissioner often pointed fingers at each other “and shifted blame in regard to what went wrong during the riots,” according to the police union report.

“When questions arose surrounding the management of the Baltimore Police Department, Rawlings-Blake and Batts issued scathing public attacks on the rank and file,” the report states.

Even national police organizations are calling for removal of the mayor following a public admission that she protected the public’s right to free speech during the violent protests by giving “those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”

Ms. Rawlings-Blake has said her comments during an April 26 press conference were misinterpreted.

“The mayor should probably go too, but she can’t be fired. She can only be recalled or voted out of office,” said Bill Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations. “The mayor has the authority to pressure the chief to resign and that’s what happened. It’s hardball politics.”

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